Bolos, Blundstones and the Blues

Winnipeg’s first annual Interstellar Rodeo dresses to impress

  • Blue Rodeo closing out the festival – Mike Sudoma

  • Sarah McLachlan, still building her mystery – Mike Sudoma

  • The awe-struck festival goers await their next treat – Mike Sudoma

  • Local troubadour Scott Nolan plays to his hometown crowd on Friday night – Mike Sudoma

  • Basking in that Vance Joy glow – Mike Sudoma

  • Tanya Tagaq works her magic – Mike Sudoma

This ain’t your average music festival.

Held downtown at The Forks National Historic site, Winnipeg’s first annual Interstellar Rodeo was a success of divine proportions. Granted the esteemed number one spot on CBC Music’s “10 Best Canadian Summer Music Festivals of 2015” (beating out heavy hitters Squamish Valley Music Festival, Osheaga and Sled Island), the event had mountains of hype to live up to. And boy, did it ever.

Presented by Toronto-based independent label Six Shooter Records, the star-studded lineup swung from pioneering country twang in honky tonk superstar Dwight Yoakam to dazzling revivalist old-time funk and soul with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings to hometown rock hero Greg MacPherson. Not only did the fluid genre shifts keep the weekend festival lively but it also wrangled in a wide audience.

Friday night’s calm crowd listened to the improvised wonder of Tanya Tagaq’s hypnotic set while sipping the festival’s featured wine pairings. Saturday’s lineup inspired an influx in stylish Western wear (cowboy hats, boots and bolos abound), and Sunday’s hip, young Herschel-packed couples swooning over Australian crooner (and Taylor Swift tour mate) Vance Joy. The event was as diverse as a steeply priced urban festival can be.

With ample, squeaky clean porta potties and helpful volunteers a glance away, the accessible and eager-to-please sonic rodeo checked off all the boxes and then some. There were speedy-quick lines at everything from the ATM to the solar-powered phone charging station to local food vendors and (most importantly) the beer tent. It’s as if it was organized by music festival veterans or industry pros or something.

Despite debilitating humidity day one, torrents of rain as warm as bathwater day two and freak chilly air on day three, artist and audience alike braved the extreme weather to sit on the grass (or ground-grazing chair or steel bleachers) to enjoy the reason everyone left the house: the music.

Disappointment stung the festival when big-draw diva Sinead O’Connor dropped out of the lineup but she was dutifully replaced by fellow Lilith Fair-ian and award-winning songstress Sarah McLachlan. Her magical Friday night set had all the drunk moms swaying and singing along.

McLachlan - joined by Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet of Whitehorse - could have won over the most jaded music fan with her gracious demeanour, charming banter, beguiling vocals and her rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which O’Connor most definitely wouldn’t have touched. “Angel”, the first song of McLachlan’s encore, even had the steely-faced security man wiping tears from his cheeks.

Another pinch-me moment occurred Saturday evening when Justin Townes Earle sang tunes from his latest record Absent Fathers, while the great Steve Earle, his father and fellow musician, dutifully watched the set from backstage with a smile on his face. Poppa Earle’s set was another mind-blower, including songs off his latest blues-influenced album as well as old anthemic crowd favourites “Copperhead Road” and “Guitar Town”.

Toronto rockers July Talk also put on an unforgettable set, with powerhouse Leah Fay feeding wine to the crowd in-between hurling herself across the stage with perfect modern dance form.

From the stellar lineup to the highly organized amenities, and awe-struck festival-goers, Winnipeg’s first Interstellar Rodeo glows as one of the province’s finest attractions.

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